Just in time for Mother’s Day, Eminem released a video of his song “Headlights.” As of writing this, 2.7 million have watched the video. The track is about Eminem’s regret for insulting his mother in previous songs and a way of expressing gratitude for the work she did as a mother.
Realizations about the difficulty of addiction and being a single-parent, Eminem comes off as sympathetic and genuine. Always known for being a real talker, he confesses his own mistakes and wishes that things could have been different between him and his mother. It’s a valuable lesson to learn. Eminem knows that he can’t just restore the relationship he had with her, the wounds are too deep, but it seems like he also knows that a total cut off isn’t prudent. He’s expressing his feelings and he’s hoping his mom gets the message.
What was previously simply an expression of anger, becomes a more sensitive and sorrowful display of emotion. Eminem’s song is relatable because it’s so emotionally honest. He’s talking about what he wished for his mother, he’s mentioning past experiences that still haunt him, and he’s not idealizing the possibility of some grand reunion between them. All of the tears and the pain aren’t just done away with—we get an image of Debbie Mathers kicking young Marshall out of her house on Christmas Eve, depictions of her alcohol and drug abuse, and even a picture of what it’s like to be moved from house to house that many in poverty are subject to.
A brief comparison between “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “Headlines” shows a real sense of growth for Eminem. But his pain is still there and he is still expressing it. The song is in stark contrast to the typical machismo found in most popular hip-hop, and frankly, it isn’t nearly as good as many of my favorite hip-hop songs this year (I actually turned it off the first time it played on the radio), but still, I learned something from it. Eminem, even past his prime and his older age, still remains unequaled in the hip-hop community, in touch with his feelings in a way that is not easily duplicated.
Eminem’s heart softens. A hard, stubborn heart isn’t good for us and I’m thankful that Eminem realizes that. I actually think his softening gives us hope to forgive the people around us. In fact, until we do, it seems like their hold on us is endless. Eminem lets go of both the rage against his mother that he regretfully expressed. That is fundamentally Christian—the cornerstone of our whole faith is Jesus forgiving us.
I’m not sure that Eminem should feel too much regret about his original song about his mother, and he does say that he was rightfully angry. But until he got that out, he may not have been able to muster up this more forgiving song. Being able to express our negative emotions is crucially important for us—I’m not sure a public confession is necessary, but that’s how Eminem chose to do it.
The rap artist is really exhibiting the basic Christian principle of loving your enemy here. It might a stretch for some of us to see Jesus in Eminem’s song, but it isn’t so hard in this one. In fact, the best way to defeat your enemies is by giving them your love and your forgiveness. By really letting go of the affect they have on us. Our job as Christians to love the people have hurt us, while fully realizing the pain we’ve experienced through the relationship we’ve had with them. Eminem does both here.
I obviously don’t know how embellished or how understated Eminem’s description of his relationship with his mother is, but if he can change and his heart can soften, that gives of us hope. That resentment, and anger, and rage that builds up inside of us when we can’t forgive our closest ones really corrodes our soul. Eminem goes out of his way to offer sympathy to his “deadbeat dad,” saying that he probably doesn’t keep up with every address (although Eminem vows he would never do that to one of his kids).
Still, Eminem forgives his mother and can actually love her and call her beautiful because she did her best in his view. That may not be true objectively, but it is for him. It’s how he’s coping with his pain. It’s not pure disillusionment and revisionism. He remembers the pain and he wears the scars, but he forgives his oppressor. And isn’t that exactly what Jesus modeled for us?
Hopefully this will be an encouragement to you in your life as you navigate the painful paths of reconciliation with those who have wounded us most deeply. Feel your pain and forgive endlessly.